Epic

Archie Manning was already legendary at Ole Miss and in the Southeastern Conference, but it took a Herculian performance on night time national TV to propel the redhead from Drew into the national spotlight, even in a loss.

Ole Miss and Alabama, both nationally ranked, will meet Saturday afternoon in a clash of unbeatens on the biggest stage in college football that day and on one the biggest stages ever for the Rebels.

October 4 will be monumental.

On another October 4 45 years ago, another historical game took place between the same two highly-regarded teams.

It pitted Coach John Vaught's marvel, Quarterback Archie Manning and a highly-regarded Rebel team, against Bear Bryant's always powerful Red Elephants.

What happened that day could not have been predicted, but first some background from the main figure of the night, Manning.

"We were picked to win the SEC," said Manning recently, "so we had been pointing to the Alabama game all summer because we were opening with Memphis State and Kentucky, who were not supposed to be in our class."

Alabama was anticipated to be the first major roadblock for the Rebels, but, as Archie recalls, a crazy thing happened before the ultimate match.

"When we played Kentucky, it was the only time in my career that Coach Vaught decided to not show much," Manning recalls. "We ran power football all night and should have won. We missed a field goal and fumbled inside the five and damned if we didn't lose by one point (10-9)."


Archie Manning.

These days, after that kind of an upset, television would have switched to another venue because the luster, supposedly, was off of the Ole Miss-Alabama game due to the unsightly blemish on the Rebs' record.

In those days, the schedule and TV plans were set in stone. There was no turning back - Ole Miss and Alabama would be the second ever night time nationally televised college football game in Birmingham at famed Legion Field.

"That week, Coach Vaught told me we were not going to hold back anything. We were going to throw the kitchen sink at Alabama," said Archie. "He wasn't joking.

"Back then, defenses were really tough, the rules favored defense and there just weren't as many offensive schemes as there are now, so there were a lot of games in the teens and 20s. That night resembled a current Big 12 match between Baylor and Kansas State."

In the first half, there were some fireworks, but nothing out of the ordinary with the Tide leading 14-7.

Alabama scored first on a 1-yard run by sophomore Johnny Musso, who Manning still calls "the best back until Herschel Walker I had ever seen in the SEC," and a 17-yard run by Bubba Sawyer. Ole Miss had put up their lone TD on a 2-yard run by, you guessed it, Manning after a 74-yard, 10-play march.

After halftime, all bets were off and defense was out the window.

"We felt if we ever had to punt, we'd lose," recalls Manning. "Both teams were up and down the field. Scott Hunter, the Tide QB, played a terrific game. I think he was something like 22-30 for 300 yards, big, big numbers in those days."

But it was Manning who captured the heart of America with a performance that stands the test of time as one of the greatest individual efforts ever in college football.

“That was the most fun I have ever had during a game and the most pain I have felt after a game.”

Archie went 33-52 for 436 yards in the air and he rushed for another 104 yards on 15 carries. He ran for three TDs and passed for two more and his 540 yards of total offense stood as an SEC record for many years.

"We had the ball last, but we just ran out of time," Manning reflected. "Through my whole football career, in high school, college and pros, that was the most fun I have ever had during a game and the most pain I have felt after a game."

Archie recapped the "fun" with one example that sticks in his mind after four and a half decades.

"We hit our tight end, Jim Poole, over the middle with a seam route. Nobody did that then, but Coach Vaught said if they were going to leave it open, we'd put our wide receiver, Vernon Studdard, at tight end and run it some more," he laughed. "Studdard lined up at tight end and we ran it successfully some more. It was that kind of night - where it seemed like everything worked and neither defense had any answers."

Archie was not the only Rebel star. WR Floyd Franks set an Ole Miss record with 13 catches for 191 yards. Studdard had 122 yards on just four receptions.

While Manning became an even bigger hero than he already was and Bryant himself said "they shouldn't give him one Heisman, they should give him a box full," it was a bitter loss that has not lost all of its sting to this day.

"A few years ago, one of my teammates, Skipper Jernigan, called me and said Scott and some of the Alabama players wanted to get together and have a 20th reunion of that game," Archie stated. "I said no way, we lost. There was no reunion."


Archie Manning.

The next week, Manning, who averaged roughly 1,000 pieces of mail a week directed to UMAA, received over 5,000 letters and cards. While nice, that was not the salve he needed on his wounds.

"The worst part of the whole thing was that we were 0-2 in the SEC and had lost two games by one point each. That was hard to live with," he noted.

The good thing is that there was still plenty of time for redemption and redeem themselves Archie and the Rebs did.

"We didn't lose another conference game. We beat Georgia the next week in Jackson 25-17 and they were the defending SEC champs and undefeated. We beat undefeated LSU three weeks later in Jackson and then we had the Mule Game with Tennessee in Jackson," he recalled. "They were undefeated and ranked in the Top 5. We ended up going to the Sugar Bowl and beating a great Arkansas team, who I thought was the best team in the country that year."

The legend grew and grew and grew.

There was also a measure of revenge exacted on 'Bama the following year when the Archie-led Rebels mauled the Tide 48-23 in Jackson, but even with all of that, the 1969 Ole Miss-Alabama game is still regarded as one of the best ever played in college football history.

It's a game Archie, with all his exploits and his marvelous career, cannot escape.

"Ten years later, I was being interviewed about the game by a New York writer and it was time for the interview to be over. He had exhausted everything about the game, but he had to ask me one more question and if there was anything that really stood out about the game," Archie joked. "I told him the most memorable thing about the night was that a Sigma Chi friend of mine Jan Scarbrough, who we called Scar Belly, fell out of the stadium and only broke his leg. Scar Belly was too drunk to die."

With battles like that, lifelong bonds are also formed. Archie and the Bear became good friends.

"Ever since that night, Coach Bryant was always good to me," Archie notes. "George Lindsey, Goober on The Andy Griffith Show, used to have a golf tournament that I played in. There was always a concert the night before and Coach Bryant would always insist I ride with him and Mary Harmon (Bryant's wife) with a police escort to the concert. He was a fine, fine man, and wonderful to me."

The Bear, nor Vaught, were fans of that famous game, however.

"I was at a Hall of fame banquet years later and Vaught and Bryant were standing together. Someone in our group asked about the game and in unison both of them said 'worst game I ever coached.' It was hilarious - they hated that wide open style of play," Archie laughed.

In the 45 years since the clash of titans, Manning has spoken in Birmingham at the Touchdown Club many times and he always starts with the same joke.

"Legion Field held 60,000 people, but at least 500,000 have told me there were at that game," he says. "Somebody isn't telling the truth."

There or watching it on TV, it was a game for the ages, one that still makes the hair stand up on the back of the necks of fervent college football fans, especially Rebel and Bama fans old enough to have seen it.

And the redhead from Drew was the centerpiece.

Unbelievable.

Other-wordly.

Epic.


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